US-made F-16 in the sky over the Black Sea: predator or prey?

The analysis was made by the Russian blogger Alexey Lenkov. His evaluations, opinions, and comments do not reflect the position of The analysis was sent to our email.


The huge losses of the enemy in aviation forced the Western curators to decide on the potential transfer of F-16 fighters to Ukraine, which are in service with NATO countries. Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark have already declared their readiness to train pilots, and subsequently to hand over the fighters themselves to Ukraine. The US has approved the re-export of F-16s from these states.

US-made F-16 in the sky over the Black Sea: predator or prey?
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

A big problem for Ukraine is the shortage of pilots. This is a major reason to assume that the F-16 handover could mean that these fighters will be flown by NATO pilots who are already familiar with this technique.

Earlier, MiG-29s from the Air Force of Poland and Slovakia were already handed over to Kyiv. There are claims, which have not been proven at the moment, that the Polish and Slovak MIGs are also piloted by non-Ukrainians. Slovakia has fully handed over all 12 of its MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine.

US-made F-16 in the sky over the Black Sea: predator or prey?
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Poland also transferred some MiG-29s. Poland is said to have kept several MiG-29s, mostly for future training of young pilots. The role of the MiG-29 in Poland will currently be filled by 48 American F-16 Fighting Falcons. If we accept as true that 12 of them, mostly version D, are also used for training, then Poland has 36 active fighters.

The situation is similar in Bulgaria, where the Air Force only has 16 fighter jets. And they all belong to the MiG-29 model. However, Bulgaria has not yet received its first F-16 Bolk 70/72.

As you can see, NATO is no longer able to transfer MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine. This is the reason NATO countries have started transferring F-16s from their air forces. In total, they plan to transfer up to 50 F-16 fighters to the enemy.

What are these fighters?

As you know, the F-16 is a 4th generation fighter that entered service in 1978. And its modifications can vary quite a bit in their capabilities. It is assumed that Ukraine’s allies want to give Kyiv an F-16AM modification. These are upgraded F-16As to the F-16C Block 50/52 level, the most common modification of the F-16 fighter.

AIM-120 AMRAAM - Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The F-16 is equipped with one Pratt & Whitney F100 turbojet engine, has a maximum afterburner speed of 2,200 km/h, and a cruising speed of 1,110 km/h. The combat radius without external fuel tanks is 580 km.

The aircraft is armed with a six-barreled 20 mm M61A1 “Vulcan” cannon and also has 9 pylons for hanging various weapons. They can be:

  • AIM-9 and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles
  • Air-to-ground missiles AGM-65 “Maverick”
  • AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missiles
  • Anti-ship missiles Penguin Mk.3 and AGM-84 Harpoon
  • High-precision AGM-158 JASSM cruise missiles with a range of 980 km
  • AGM-154 JSOW glide bombs with a range of up to 560 km
  • Free-falling and adjustable bombs

The maximum firing range of the most modern modification of the anti-aircraft missile – AIM-120D – is 180 km.

The AN / APG-68 radar with a maximum detection range of up to 296 km is responsible for target detection. Fighter targets can be detected at a distance of up to 150 km. The AN/APG-68 is a slot antenna radar, similar in many ways to the Russian H011 Bars radar on the Su-30SM or the H010 Zhuk-M on the MiG-29K.

US-made F-16 in the sky over the Black Sea: predator or prey?
Photo credit: USAF

Thus, in terms of target detection range, the F-16AM can be compared to the Russian Su-30SM, which is not one of the most advanced vehicles of the Russian Aerospace Forces [VKS].

Is he a serious opponent?

The Russian VKS have fighters with more powerful radars, such as Su-35S, Su-57, or MiG-31BM, which can easily detect F-16 targets at a distance of more than 300 km. In addition, the Su-30SM fighter fleet is currently being upgraded to the level of the Su-30SM2, which is equipped with the H035 radar, the same as the Su-35C.

Egyptian Su-35 Flanker-E fighters are going to Iran in March
Photo credit: Wikipedia

To realize the advantages in detection range, the Su-57, Su-35S, Su-30SM2, and MiG-31BM are equipped with a long-range missile R-37M, capable of hitting air targets at a maximum range of 398 km. It flies at a speed of Mach 6. For such characteristics, Western experts called it “long poker”. Thanks to these missiles, Russian pilots confidently shoot down Ukrainian aircraft at great distances, remaining unnoticed. Thus, the Russian Air Force has fighters and missiles that give superiority over the F-16AM in air combat.

10+ Russian Su-30s began tactical rehearsals over Kaliningrad - Su-30
Photo credit: Irkut Press Office

In principle, Ukraine can receive information from early warning aircraft [AWACS] that will patrol over the territory of Poland, Romania, or the waters of the Black Sea. But they will be very far from the front line, which will not give the desired [perhaps expected] advantage to the Ukrainian Air Force in air combat.

Of course, the F-16AM can use cruise and anti-ship missiles. Let’s not forget that the US F-16s also carry air-to-surface missiles and glide bombs.

But the Russian advantage in the number of aircraft and the more advanced technologies compared to those in the older F-16s, which Ukraine will receive, will not allow Kyiv to “get rid of the superiority of Russian VKS in the sky” or change anything in the situation at the front.


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